Facts About Earwigs

No matter how many interesting facts about earwigs there are, most people really only care about one: Can earwigs eat your brain? Thankfully, the answer is no. There’s no telling just how far back this myth goes, but the name ‟earwig” stems from ēarewicga, which is Old English for ‟ear insect.”

Here are some more earwig facts – or pincher bug facts, as some people call them – to help you separate truth from fiction.

Facts about earwigs you probably didn’t know

  • To expand on the origin of the name, people used to think that earwigs could crawl in your ear and either dig into or eat your brain. It was thought that earwigs would lay eggs in your head, which might in turn, cause you to go crazy. None of this is true, though cases have been documented where earwigs crawl into a camper’s ear canal, seeking the dark and moisture they favor when hiding.

  • Earwigs can look scary because of their rear-facing cerci, or pincers. These pincers resemble forceps and can inflict some pain when they pinch. Thankfully, earwigs rarely pinch humans, instead using their cerci to defend themselves, mate or grasp food. They can, however, give a pinch if trapped, handled or sat on. Their chewing mouthparts pose no biting threat to humans.

  • Another defense mechanism that certain species of earwigs possess comes from dorsal glands located on either side of their abdomens. These glands emit a horrid odor that comes in the form of a fluid. They can squirt this defensive fluid between 7 and 100 millimeters. Unfortunately, they also release this foul stench when you step on them.

  • Earwigs have wings, but don’t often fly. They are also fast, but they don’t travel long distances on the ground. So how have they managed to infiltrate almost every corner of the United States? Earwigs are hitchhikers, taking up hiding spots in many of the items humans carry with them when they travel or move, such as suitcases, boxes and furniture.

  • Earwigs are fairly unique in the insect world in that mothers will sometimes help rear and protect their young. This is despite the fact that earwig nymphs are fully capable of surviving on their own. This means the mothers ‟choose” to stay with their young, keeping fungus from growing on the eggs and protecting them from predators. Even after hatching, most mothers spend a few weeks bringing food back to her nymphs, many of which choose to stay together and grow strong with their siblings.

  • Earwig siblings help each other out, producing more frass when in the company of their brothers and sisters. Frass – or insect poop – might seem distasteful to humans, but for many immature insects, it is a good source of nutrition. The frass is donated and then eaten, meaning the nymphs help nourish each other. If nymphs crawl into an unrelated brood of earwigs, they are equally likely to be cannibalized as they are to be ‟adopted.”

Of course, as many earwig facts as there are, this one is the truest of them all: You don't need or want them in your home. They might not pose the danger people once thought, but there is absolutely no reason to put up with them. Call Terminix® for your free pest estimate and don’t let invading pests get into your head.